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Walden v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. of America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 16, 2014

MICHAEL D. WALDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, INC., a New York corporation transacting business in Colorado, a/k/a MetLife, Inc.; and the ERISA plan administrator (identity unknown/undisclosed at this time, and if applicable); Defendants

Page 1321

For Michael D. Walden, Plaintiff: Benjamin Silva, III, Benjamin Silva, III & Associates, PC, Lakewood, CO.

For Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of America, Inc., a New York corporation transacting business in Colorado also known as MetLife, Inc., Defendant: Christine Marie Kroupa, Franz Hardy, Nicole Christine Irby, Gordon & Rees, LLP-Denver, Denver, CO.

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ORDER

Wiley Y. Daniel, Senior United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company of America, Inc.'s [" MetLife" ] Motion to Dismiss filed April 8, 2014. A response was filed on April 29, 2014, and a reply was filed on May 12, 2014. Thus, the motion is fully briefed, and I note that the scheduling order deadlines are stayed pending a ruling on this motion. ( See ECF No. 35.)

By way of background, this case arises out of Plaintiff's claim for long-term disability benefits pursuant to an employee welfare benefits plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. [" ERISA" ].[1] Plaintiff alleges he became disabled on June 22, 2010. He further alleges he applied for long-term disability benefits and requested copies of applicable plan documents, which he never received. Plaintiff brings claims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty pursuant to ERISA, as well as a claim for bad faith breach of insurance contract pursuant to Colorado state law. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, actual damages, double damages pursuant to Colorado statute, interest, attorneys' fees and other costs, including expert witness fees.

MetLife's Motion to Dismiss argues that Plaintiff's claim for breach of fiduciary duty is duplicative of the claim for breach of contract and, therefore, is improper. It also argues that ERISA preempts the bad faith breach of insurance contract claim and the extracontractual damages sought under Colorado statute. Finally, MetLife asserts that the remaining claim for breach of contract is time-barred pursuant to the terms of the governing benefit plan under which Plaintiff brings this action.

II. FACTS

While Plaintiff refers to disputed and undisputed facts in his response to the motion to dismiss, at this stage of the case I must " accept all well-pleaded facts" in the complaint " as true and view them in the light most favorable" to the party asserting the claim. Jordan-Arapahoe, LLP v. Bd. of County Comm'rs of Cnty. of Arapahoe, 633 F.3d 1022, 1025 (10th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff alleges he was employed by Honeywell as an engineer. (Compl., ¶ ¶ 6, 9.) Honeywell maintained short-term and long-term disability benefit plans. ( Id., ¶ 7; see also Honeywell International Inc. Disability Income Insurance: Long Term Benefits Corporate Plan, effective

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June 1, 2002 [" the Plan" ], attached to the motion as Exhibit A).[2] Honeywell served as ERISA plan administrator under the Plan. (Ex. A at 52.)

MetLife is the claim administrator for and funder of benefits under the Plan. (Ex. A at 24, 41, 52.) The Plan is an employee welfare benefit plan pursuant to ERISA. (Compl., ¶ 14; see also Ex. A at 52-56 (ERISA Information)). The Plan grants MetLife " discretionary authority to interpret the terms of the Plan and to determine eligibility for and entitlement to Plan benefits in accordance with the terms of the Plan." (Ex. A at 54.)

Plaintiff claims that, on or about June 22, 2010, he became disabled due to " numerous mental, physical and emotional disabilities" which prevented him from performing his job. (Compl., ¶ 9.) Plaintiff applied for short- and long-term disability benefits. ( Id., ¶ 10.) MetLife initially approved Plaintiff's claim for short-term disability benefits, but then denied the claim on July 17, 2010. ( Id.) Plaintiff appealed, and MetLife upheld its denial of his claim for benefits in a " final denial" on December 9, 2010. ( Id.) Plaintiff exhausted administrative remedies as required. ( Id, ¶ 15.) Plaintiff has not received long-term disability benefits. ( Id., ¶ 18.)

Plaintiff alleges in regard to his claim for long-term disability benefits that " [d]espite numerous additional medical submissions and multiple letters from Plaintiff s counsel, Defendant MetLife has refused to respond to any inquiries, refused to provide a copy of the applicable disability plans/policies which were effective on the date that Plaintiff became disabled." (Compl., ¶ 10.) Further, he alleges that " [s]ince the time of the 'final' administrative denial on December 9, 2010, Plaintiff retained counsel but MetLife, other than providing an initial packet of records and correspondence, has simply not bothered to respond to Plaintiff's counsel's letters, produce requested documents, or respond to inquiries." ( Id.) " None of the letters provided from Metlife to Plaintiff, including the 'final denial letter' dated December 9, 2010, gave Plaintiff any instruction as to further legal remedies available to him or whether there are/were any applicable time limits in which to do so." ( Id.)

Further, it is alleged that " [d]espite being advised of Plaintiff's ongoing inability to work on multiple occasions, both the Defendant insurer and the employer have never formally or informally acknowledged Plaintiff s repeated requests for long-term disability benefits, and have never provided Plaintiff with any information or documentation with regard to a potential long-term disability claim." (Compl., ¶ 12.) Plaintiff asserts that:

After denying payment under the short-term disability policy, both Defendant Metlife and Defendant Honeywell failed to provide copies of the applicable short-term and long-term disability plans/policies despite numerous phone calls and multiple written requests from Plaintiff's attorney. Because the policies/plans applicable on the date that Plaintiff became disabled (nor any other policy/plan copy) has ever been provided to Plaintiff or his counsel, Plaintiff does not have any information provided ...

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